What’s for dinner: Ratatouille rustico

So many vegetables, so little time.

When Fresh & Easy was still new to Phoenix, one of the only things I really liked about the store was the ready-to-heat ratatouille in the refrigerated section. I’d never eaten it before — and this is before the animated movie of the same name was released — and it turned out that I loved the mix of vegetables in a rich tomato base. Apparently I was the only one, because F&E stopped carrying it.

I found myself at the Downtown Phoenix farmers market last Saturday morning, having vowed to eat better — more vegetables, specifically — picking through the produce with ratatouille in mind. (The full stash of ingredients is at right.)

And a week later, there I was opening the refrigerator door and saying, “You really need to start on that, before all these vegetables go bad.” So I did. And as it turned out, the whole process was easier and took less effort than I thought.

I say “less effort” because I wasn’t about to spend a lot of time arranging slices of vegetables into visually pleasing spirals like this — I wanted to eat the dish, not present it as an art project. So I’ll refer to this as “ratatouille rustico,” rather than “Sam cutting corners.”

The ingredients: olive oil; 1 onion, chopped; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 1 small eggplant, cubed; 2 bell peppers, chopped; 4 small zucchini, sliced about ¼ inch thick; 4 large tomatoes, chopped; herbs to taste. I used 2 teaspoons of Italian herb mix and another generous pinch of parsley.

Click on any of the thumbnails below to see the source photo larger, in a new window.

1. Saute onions. 2. Add eggplant. 3. Then peppers*.

Step 1: In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, saute onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. (I was lazy and used “squeeze garlic” instead of mincing cloves.) Stir often so all onions get a chance to soften in the heat; it’ll take 5–6 minutes.

Step 2: Add eggplant, and stir so the cubes get a little love in the olive oil department, too.

Step 3: Then add peppers. (I used red ones because they’re sweeter than green bell peppers.) Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring once in a while to move things around in the pan and to make sure the vegetables don’t stick.

*Yes, I know the red color-coded cutting board is supposed to be used for meats. I took liberties.

4. Add tomatoes. 5. And zucchini. 6. Finish with herbs.

Steps 4–6: Now that the firmer vegetables have begun to cook down, it’s time to add the softer ingredients that take less time to reach doneness. Mix in the tomatoes, zucchini and herbs; reduce heat to low, cover and cook for another 15 minutes. Add additional herbs, salt and pepper to taste.

I brought the Bose iPod player out to the kitchen as a soundtrack for my culinary quest. The playlist was one that I created for my friend Richie’s birthday CD last year; I hit “play” before I started chopping vegetables, and the dish was done before the songs were. If you’re game to try it yourself, I’m going to load the playlist of MP3s to Dropbox for easy download. (And because it’s multipurpose, don’t feel you can only listen to it when making ratatouille, either.) Here’s the lineup:

  1. “Cruel to Be Kind” by Nick Lowe — (artist video on Vevo here)
  2. “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap (artist video on Vevo here)
  3. “You’ve Got the Love” by Florence + The Machine (artist video on Vevo here)
  4. “Bust Your Windows” by Jazmine Sullivan (artist video on Vevo here)
  5. “Take Care of Business (Pilooski Remix)” by Nina Simone (fan video on YouTube here)
  6. “Rockin’ Chair” by Gwen McCrae (stream track on Hype Machine here)
  7. “Pumpkin” by Tricky (fan video on You Tube here)
  8. “Move With Me (Dub Mix)” by Neneh Cherry
  9. “Every Other Way (Radio Edit)” by BT — (artist video here)
  10.  “Pictures” by Grandadbob (artist video on YouTube here)
  11. “Lemonade” by Wheatus (stream track on Hype Machine here)
  12. “Okay Dolores” by Dragonette (fan video on YouTube here)
  13. “Just Like You” by Voice of the Beehive (live video on YouTube here)
  14. “If This Is Love” by The Saturday (artist video on YouTube here)
  15. “Situation” by Yaz (fan video on YouTube here)
  16. “Like a Motorway” by Saint Etienne (artist video for alternate version on YouTube here, but I like my version better)
  17. “Second Nature” by Electronic — (live video on YouTube here)
  18.  “Speed” by Butler & McAlmont (fan on YouTube here)
  19. “I Don’t Understand Anything” by Everything But the Girl (fan video on YouTube here)
  20. “The Book of Love” by Peter Gabriel (fan video on YouTube here)

Click here to download the songs. I’ll keep the link active through Saturday, Aug. 6. Now, get cooking!

WHAT SAM WORE: 7-30-11
The shirt: Tee-shirt by Junk Food, from Last Chance.
The shorts: Corduroy cut-offs, on sale at Lucky Brand.
The shoes: Sneakers by Diesel, from Last Chance.
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